Airline review: Etihad business class, Abu Dhabi to Sydney

THE PLANE

Airbus A380-800 – Etihad has 10 in its fleet

THE ROUTE

EY454 Abu Dhabi to Sydney

LOYALTY SCHEME

Etihad's Guest Reward scheme has 400 partner airlines, including Air New Zealand and Virgin Australia.

CLASS

Business, seat 18K

DURATION

13 hours, 20 minutes

FREQUENCY

Daily direct flights

SEAT

Etihad's "business studios" are well designed, providing 20 per cent more space than the original seats. Some may object to the 1-2-1 forward-facing and back-facing "dovetail" configuration but once in the air, direction is a state of mind. The window seat particularly is very private, as seats are staggered in "pods" within a wide-body, twin-aisle configuration. The middle two seats have an optional privacy screen and all seats have direct aisle access. Middle seats are directly on the aisle so privacy is not as good.

Business is almost full but there's a genuine feel of space and seclusion. My forward-facing seat, upholstered in Poltrona Frau leather has a pneumatic aircushion system, with massage and softness/hardness choices. Most importantly, it reclines to a fully flat 203-centimetre bed. There's excellent storage including two spacious window bins. Seat, light, blinds and entertainment controls are recessed or touch-screen leaving room on the tray table, plus there's a drop-down large meal table.

BAGGAGE

Up to 40 kilograms, but each piece must not weigh more than 32 kilograms. Two items of cabin baggage up to 12 kilograms, plus a garment bag.

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COMFORT

I love the warm, soft, fleece-backed quilt and decent-sized cushion/pillow and the soothing cabin colours of cream, caramel, chocolate and silver, a reference to the desert landscape and Abu Dhabi's Islamic-inspired architecture. The city-themed amenities bag has London-based Scaramouche+Fandango moisturiser, lip salve, toothbrush kit, socks, earplugs and plush mask, plus a LUXE city guide. There's never a queue for the three available clean and spacious toilets.

ENTERTAINMENT

There's a 46-centimetre touch-screen TV with touch-screen handset, noise-cancelling headphones, power socket and USB port, good selection of new-release movies, wide range of television shows and interactive channels, seven live-news and sport channels and an excellent music selection. Wi-Fi (at a cost) and mobile connectivity is available.

SERVICE

Etihad excels on this flight. My personal attendant is warm, almost intuitive – he appears as I wake to take my breakfast order. I didn't spot Etihad's "flying nanny" but it's nice to know there is one to assist parents.

FOOD

Piper-Heidsieck NV Brut champagne, orange juice and water are offered on boarding and water bottles are freely offered throughout. Before take-off the charming food and beverage manager suggests a pleasant, full-bodied Barossa Valley 2015 shiraz, Pirathon by Kalleske, to go with my beef fillet with roast potatoes, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and shiitake mushroom sauce meal choice, rather than a Chilean red from the Maipo Valley. A pre-meal glass (tall and stemmed) for tasting approval arrives with warmed cashews, brazil nuts and almonds.

My starter choice is delicate Arabic mezze. The bread roll is flavoursome and warm. Sophisticated hammered metal cutlery, salt and pepper shakers, stylised steel bread basket, elegant chinaware and crisp linen make dining a pleasure. The all-day menu includes Vietnamese shrimp, sugarcane sticks and sweet chilli sauce or striploin steak sandwich with emmenthal cheese and red onion chutney. Business travellers can use "the Lobby", a serviced lounge and bar area between first and business.

ONE MORE THING

It's disappointing that Etihad no longer offers its Christian Lacroix pyjamas and slippers. Still, the seat's extreme comfort allows a seven-hour sleep – possibly my long-haul record.

THE VERDICT

Very good indeed, apart from the pyjama perk issue, small though it may be.

OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE: ★★★★½

See also: Airline review: Etihad Airways, Boeing 777-300, business class

See also: Airline review: Etihad Airways, Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner, business class

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